Monday, October 1, 2018

R.I.P. Phyllis Kind


Phyllis Kind and Roger Brown

I got a message the other day that Phyllis Kind died. For those of you who don’t know who she is, you should. She was a gallerist and a personality unlike anything the art world had before.

Her gallery, Phyllis Kind Gallery, was the first job I ever had in New York. It is the job that made it possible for me to move/live here and it has influenced my approach to art in ways I probably still do not understand.

She originally started her space in Chicago, selling prints and such, and then she got into the thick of it and is the reason why The Hairy Who, the Imagists and “Outsider Art” has the influence that it had/has and is finally being paid its dues.

I started working for her as an intern while still in college, commuting from Rutgers to her Greene Street location once a week, then worked full time as a gallery assistant. It was the end of the grand ol’ days as this was sometime around 2003, but for a total art newbie, entrance into her multi-level Soho space was both intimidating and wondrous. She lived in the back of the space so the mixing of business and personal overlapped in inviting (sharing Chinese takeout at her kitchen table) to rattling (potatoes being thrown at your head during an outburst.) But it was a type of education that was beyond impactful.

Under her tutelage and observations, I learned how a gallerist is more than just a person in the art business but a character of sorts. Anyone who knew Phyllis would be swirled into her vicinity and it was up to you if you could stay a float in her currents. Her mind was sharp, her tongue sharper, and the mixture of hard and surpassingly generous softs showed you the depth and complexity of what it meant to be a gallery owner and human being.

The thing that I learned most, the thing has is a base of so much of how I operate and think about art today, was her unwavering way of thinking and seeing art and who makes it. Her mixing of insider, outsider, has been talked about in many different circles, but Phyllis truly loved art in a way that seems cliché. She would get so excited and thrilled about an artist, she made it her business and passion to make sure that people saw, people understood, people opened their eyes to what she was seeing.

In addition to her authentic passion for art/artists, she played the gallery game so well. In the 80s she was a force that was recognized and feared at times. She was all New York brashness with a mind that could remember any date and name and eyes that could pierce any undeveloped soul. But through it all she remained herself and unnegotiating on what she thought art could look like and who were valid in making, buying and seeing it.

I hadn't seen Phyllis for years, after she moved to the West coast, but her name and the links I have made from my time with her still connect. She had that ability to create a sense of family. Dysfunctional in many ways perhaps, but she was this mighty force, glue, magnet that kept everyone connected. I guess that’s because if she saw you, if she took you in, that meant something.

Phyllis Kind. What a legend. What a shame that gallerists and key players fade away the way they do, but I guess that is normal. Even so, her legacy will still remain because the work people are just starting to remember now is what she loved and supported decades ago.